Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 Primary Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.

The following came from Vicky Cayetano, Democratic candidate for governor. The other Democratic candidates include Duke Bourgoin, Josh Green, Kai Kahele, Richard Kim, Clyde Lewman and Van Tanabe.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for Governor

Vicky Cayetano
Party Democratic
Age 66
Occupation Former president of United Laundry, PureStar Laundries
Residence Honolulu


Community organizations/prior offices held

Board, Hawaii Symphony Orchestra; Former First Lady of Hawaii.

1. What is the biggest issue facing Hawaii, and what would you do about it?

There are so many issues facing Hawaii and most of them have been talked about for decades with promises by politicians in every election to resolve them. Promises that have not been kept, and today, the problems have only gotten worse.

How do we bring back our young people? How do we take care of our kupuna and keep our ohana together? Bringing solutions to these challenges is why I am running for governor.

We need leadership with the mind, skillset and determination to resolve the many interconnected problems our state faces. We need leaders in government who understand the meaning of public service and bring the transparency, accountability and urgency needed to serve the people well.

Inertia, political ambition and corruption, has brought us to a place where our government has forgotten small businesses, the middle class and the young people who are the future of Hawaii.

If we are going to fix any single biggest issue, and I would respectfully submit that there isn’t just one, we must first start by fixing our government.

2. Many people have talked about diversifying the local economy for many years now, and yet Hawaii is still heavily reliant on tourism. What, if anything, should be done differently about tourism and the economy?

While we have talked about diversifying the economy and moving away from a heavily reliant tourism economy, the reality is that the state’s budget and resources of expertise have not supported this goal.

We need to appropriate adequate funding and expert resources in agriculture, health care, climate management and all other industries in order to truly diversify our economy. In addition, we must work with public and private universities to make Hawaii the advanced learning center of the Pacific.

Small business is the backbone of our economy. While big box retailers bring low-cost products to our consumers, it often does so at the expense of our local businesses.

I will bring my entrepreneurial mindset and business experience to all these issues as we look to diversifying our economy and supporting our small business community.

3. The Legislature this session approved spending $600 million for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands plus another $300 million for other housing programs. What specifically would you try to do to create more housing for middle- and low-income residents?

To create and expedite more housing for middle- and low-income residents, I would have the state function as a guarantor for the mortgages that many of these residents need. Oftentimes because of limited credit background or income levels, residents have difficulty qualifying and getting a mortgage. I would work with the Legislature to create a mortgaging program that directly assists our residents.

The second thing we must do is a top to bottom review of the planning and permitting regulations pertaining to housing. We must restructure the permitting and planning process or we will not be able to resolve the delays which have created the critical backlog that the DHHL is in.

4. An estimated 60% of Hawaii residents are struggling to get by, a problem that reaches far beyond low income and into the middle class, which is disappearing. What ideas do you have to help the middle class and working families who are finding it hard to continue to live here? 

The middle class — the working people — are disappearing before us and sadly, this problem will continue without a specific plan to address this.

It needs a combination of solutions that consists of affordable housing (whether renting or owning), job opportunities (through economic diversification), lowering the cost of living, educational improvements, and access to managed health care.

We must also proactively ensure that the nonprofit organizations in our community are supported. This is why I have proposed creating a Community Reinvestment Fund which would require larger businesses over a certain size to designate a percentage of their sales (from Hawaii) to nonprofit organizations (in Hawaii). Nongovernmental organizations are the safety net for many in our community and we must ensure their sustainability to provide services to those most in need.

Having a thriving middle class is an urgent priority for me as governor.

5. The pandemic was particularly difficult for Hawaii’s public schools. Should there be a change in the way schools are administered? Would you support more local control including breaking the single school district into subregions?

The experience for public schools during the pandemic showed us that Hawaii was ill prepared as a state to deal with the situation. A lack of clarity, collaboration and coordination added to the challenges. First and foremost there should be clarification on whether the policies for schools pertaining to the pandemic falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education or the Department of Health.

Secondly, we should look at what health care technology is available that may allow us to keep our children and teachers safe while in the classroom. Not having to shut down and reopen is key to creating a stable plan for our families, students and teachers.

While I do not think there are enough studies to support breaking the single school district into subregions, I do believe that having more participation and control at the local level is key to better managing not only the pandemic but all major issues.

As governor, I would want to make sure that the management of the Board of Education is aligned with the Department of Education.

There is always room for improvement, however, decentralization is not going to resolve problems within the system. We must address and fix the problems in the current system.

6. Hawaii has recently experienced a number of prominent corruption scandals, prompting the state House of Representatives to appoint a commission tasked with improving government transparency through ethics and lobbying reforms. What will you do to ensure accountability at the Legislature? Are you open to ideas such as requiring the Sunshine Law and open records laws to apply to the Legislature?

To effectively tackle corruption in our government, we  need to address ethics, lobbying and campaign finance reform. I propose the following improvements to the existing state law:

  • Require disclosure for introduction of bills.
  • Outlaw the infamous practice of “gut and replace:” despite the court’s ruling against the act, the Legislature apparently continues to find ways around it. This must stop.
  • Enact term limits for the Legislature — representatives (four two-year terms) and senators (two four-year terms). It’s time these offices be made consistent with the governor, lieutenant governor, mayors and county councils.
  • Restrict Lobbying: I propose changing HRS 84-18 to require that no legislator, governor, or lieutenant governor shall be a paid lobbyist for a period of four years after leaving office.
  • Reform campaign finance: I would champion proposals to disallow corporate and union contributions; lower the percentage of out-of-state contributions from 30% of total raised to 10% or less; prohibit political campaign fundraising during the legislative session; and put a limit on the ongoing accrual of campaign accounts.

We must strengthen enforcement by enabling the Ethics Commission to fully perform its duties. I would support raising the commission’s budget, adding investigative staff, and increasing penalties for violations.

7. Recently a house on the North Shore of Oahu fell into the ocean. Climate change is real and will force us to make tough decisions. What is the first thing Hawaii should do to get in front of climate change rather than just reacting to it?

The first thing Hawaii should do to get in front of climate change is to listen to the experts. As governor I will take the following actions:

  • Act on plans. Many studies have been done. It is time to act. Let us not only take a look at the reports of the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission — we must put them into action.
  • Work with the counties to come up with aligned plans that result in immediate action to shore up our infrastructure to lessen the impact on our island lifestyle from climate change. Additionally, we will set an example of how to be good stewards of our natural resources.
  • Put actions behind caring for the environment by revamping positions within the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The DLNR has had numerous vacancies for too long and, as a result, the management of our natural environment has suffered. It is time we reorganize  and support positions to properly meet the need.
  • Seek federal and private-sector funding for management of sea-level rise and shoreline erosion.
  • Prioritize the critical maintenance of dams and reservoirs.

8. Hawaii has seen a growing division when it comes to politics, development, health mandates and other issues. A governor represents all the people of the state. What would you do to bridge those gaps and bring people together in spite of their differences?

The divisiveness in our community is indeed a big concern. I believe that part of the solution is making sure that the executive branch, from the cabinet to the administration, reflects the diversity of our state; that it is inclusive of differing opinions and ideas that represent the people of Hawaii and all of the islands.

As governor, I want to surround myself with a team that is not afraid to disagree with me or with each other. For how we are able to manage those conversations and our differing opinions will be the basis of how we work with others in our community.

I would also find a way to conduct regular monthly or quarterly meetings with community leaders from each island to hear directly from them.

9. Historically, governors and lieutenant governors have sometimes publicly clashed. How do you envision the relationship between the state’s top elected officials?

Respect and collaboration are necessary. In business, relationships are key to achieving goals and I will bring that same spirit to the office.

10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.

We are not short of ideas in Hawaii. But we lack the political will, creative mindset and inspirational leadership that are instrumental in getting things done.

One big idea is to look at how our state government is organized and structured. It has not been reorganized for decades and in that time, our world and our state have changed multiple times.

We should look at how relevant certain positions are and what new positions are needed.

As an example, I would create at the cabinet level a director position for Hawaii Island, Kauai and Maui. This would allow a level of representation that would give each island access to other directors of each department in order to address their needs more expeditiously.

Organization of our state government is key to addressing the many issues that need to be resolved for the people of Hawaii.

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